SPEAKING at the Tobermore demonstration Orange Grand Secretary Drew Nelson touched on an often forgotten issue - the sense of abandonment felt by Orangemen in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and the “broken covenant” as some see it.
These sentiments were prompted by a visit to the County Donegal, Orangemen’s Centenary Exhibition on Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant, on July 4.
“This excellent display gave an interesting southern border county Protestant view on the Covenant, “ he said.
“When the people of Ulster signed the Covenant in 1912 the Unionist population in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan played their full part and entered into the full spirit of that Covenant.
“They understood that it was a binding Covenant between all of the Unionist people of Ulster - that we would all stick together and either stand or fall together.
“The first display board on their exhibition was entitled the broken Covenant.’
“That heading reminded me forcefully that our Brethren in the border counties felt abandoned when, on the creation of the state of Northern Ireland, they were left out.”
Brother Nelson told the Orangemen in Tobermore that there has been inequality of treatment between the respective minority communities in the two jurisdictions. This was most acute concerning passports and citizenship, he explained.
“Anyone born in Northern Ireland can apply for and will be granted an Irish Passport.
“Indeed when you call at a main Post Office in Northern Ireland and ask for a Passport Application you will be asked whether or not you wish to apply for an Irish Passport or a British Passport.
“People from a British background and heritage who were left on the southern side of the border in 1921 however do not have the same reciprocal right to a British Passport, “ he declared.
He complained that there was “no automatic right to British Citizenship for Irish Citizens and that the facility for Irish Citizens born before 1949 to claim British Subject status does not confer British Citizenship, although it gives them entitlement to registration as such after 5 years living in the United Kingdom.
“The British Nationality Act 1981, in force from January 1, 1983, retained the facility for those born in the Republic of Ireland before 1949 to register as British subjects.
“However most people from a British heritage and background wishing to obtain British Passports are born after 1949 and for them there is no automatic right to either British subject status or to be registered as a British Citizen.”
He said the British Government needed to address this “historic anomaly” if normalisation is to be fully achieved.
“I therefore call upon our own United Kingdom Government to review this matter in the light of the Good Friday Agreement and in the interests of equality of opportunity and treatment for the minority community in the Republic of Ireland.
“They are asking for no more that what has already been granted to the minority community in Northern Ireland,” he concluded.